Friday, April 18, 2008

30 Reasons Windows Mobile is superior to iPhone

Read Tom Hillebrand's reasoning here... (Smartphone & Pocket PC Magazine).  And don't get all worked up before you read it - he actually does a good job of covering the iPhone's strengths too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Vote For My Vanity Plate

I've been brainstorming some ideas for a personalized license plate for my Hybrid Civic.  Which one do you like best?  All of these are currently available in NC.  If you steal my idea... I don't care - at least you'll be helping get the message across!  Vote for your favorite or suggest something better...

slow4mpg 

gr8mpg

mpgplusplus 

mpgfreak 

hypermiler

And I'm sure when I'm cruising 55 in a 65, people sure think I'm a

gasshole

;)

Enabling Internet Sharing on the Blackjack II

This is a test blog.  I've enabled Internet Connection Sharing on my Blackack II by following these instructions.  Then, I created a Bluetooth personal area network between my laptop and my phone.  Voila!  I'm blogging through my phone now using Windows Live Writer on my laptop.

Yeah, it's the little things in life that keep me entertained :)

I'm paying for sharing in my data plan...  I'm not clear why AT&T disabled it by default on this phone. 

What's on my Blackjack: SplashMoney

Overview


Buy SplashMoney at Handango.com...


SplashData's SplashMoney is without a doubt the most feature-filled financial tracking software available for the Windows Mobile platform. I've been using it for about 3 weeks now and I've still not come close to taking advantage of everything it has to offer. Some of SplashMoney's key features include:

  • Instant access to your account information through online banking
  • Ability to track multiple accounts at multiple banks
  • A companion desktop application that syncs with data on your phone if you don't have a data plan
  • Reports, budgeting, scheduled transactions, and other features normally only found on desktop financial packages
  • Available for Palm, PocketPC, and Smartphone (Smartphone version reviewed here)

Getting Started

The first time you launch SplashMoney, you'll notice it comes pre-configured with several different types of accounts. You can either delete these or edit them to reflect your actual account information.

To create a new account, you simply click the left soft key (LSK) menu option for "New" and fill in the account name. Next, choose whether or not you want to enable online access for the account. If you're paranoid about the security of online banking, you can still use SplashMoney to track your transactions; you just have to enter them all by hand. With online access, SplashMoney will sync transaction information from your banks, leaving you with the simple task of reviewing them for correctness.

Warning: While SplashMoney can sync data from a wide variety of account types (e.g. checking, savings, credit card, loans, etc.), be sure to check the list of supported banks at SplashData's website before you purchase - not all banks offer online services! Note, this page is conveniently formatted for browsing on a mobile browser - nice touch!

Select from a long list of supported banks

Not being one to read the instructions before I try anything, I found the "new account" process to be a little difficult from a usability perspective. For example, after entering an account name and selecting "enabled" for online access, the "Bank" field is greyed out with the prompt "--Select--". At this point, you have to hit the right soft key (RSK) to select "Menu", then choose "Select Bank" to launch the bank selection dialog. It would be much easier if this was just a single button click on the "New Account" rather than requiring extra clicks and menu navigation. The same process applies for setting the password.

When I first tried SplashData, I had some trouble with selecting my bank. No matter what I tried, I kept getting an ugly "Error 500" message. It turns out there was a problem with my bank, and a simple call cleared it up. While trying to figure this out, I posted a question on the SplashData forums where Justin kindly tried to help. Though the error wasn't on his side, he was able to make a tweak to adjust to some recent changes the bank had made and he modified the name of the bank in the list to disambiguate it from other similar credit unions. I really like to see this level and quickness of customer support!

I ran into another interesting anomaly with the bank selection dialog... Since the list of banks is so long, I pressed the "s" key on my smartphone's keyboard to jump down to the section of banks starting with the letter "s". In the process of writing this review, I upgraded my phone from the Samsung Blackjack to the Blackjack II. On the original Blackjack, this little trick worked without a problem. On the Blackjack II, however, I discovered I had to hit "shift" first because the bank names actually started with capital "S" instead of "s". Your mileage may vary, but keep this trick in mind if simply hitting a letter key doesn't work on your device. Note, before clicking a letter key (shift or otherwise), you have to scroll down 1 line with your directional pad (or whatever arrow keys your device has) to give focus to the bank list. This is another minor nit I have about usability.

Downloading and Reviewing Transactions

Once you have all the necessary information entered, you can download transactions for all accounts by selecting Menu / Accounts / Go Online. Alternatively, you can download transactions for just a single account by selecting that account, then choosing Options / Account / Go Online. Here's another usability glitch, in my opinion... The "Go Online" option is buried on a long menu and is not visible in the first set of menu choices. Once you bring up the Account menu, you have to click 7 times to scroll down to the "Go Online" option.

Once your transactions are downloaded, you can choose to review them one-by-one or simply choose "accept all" to jump right to the account register.

Review your transactions one-by-one or simply accept them all

If you've manually entered a transaction before downloading it, you're given the option of matching each downloaded transaction to the one you already entered. This is a dream come true for those of us who tend to focus on details and love it when everything stays in complete balance!

Did I mention SplashMoney has some usability quirks? Well, I found another one that I just can't get over in the "Edit Transaction" dialog. When editing the details of a transaction, you can choose which category it belongs to (e.g. Dining out, utilities, etc.). Once you give focus to the "Category" edit box, clicking right-or-left will default to the "Split" option assuming that you want to assign multiple categories to the single transaction. I later figured out that clicking on the category edit box brings up the list of categories in non-split mode... just what I was looking for.

The Account Register

Once you have all the necessary information entered, you can download transactions for all accounts by selecting Menu / Accounts / Go Online. Alternatively, you can download transactions for just a single account by selecting that account, then choosing Options / Account / Go Online. Here's another usability glitch, in my opinion... The "Go Online" option is buried on a long menu and is not visible in the first set of menu choices. Once you bring up the Account menu, you have to click 7 times to scroll down to the "Go Online" option.

By default, the transaction listing / account register does not include a column for transaction date. Also, the transactions are initially sorted such that the newest one is at the bottom. So after your first sync, you might have hundreds of transactions to scroll through in order to see your most recent few. Luckily, on the Options menu, there are choices for "Go To Bottom" and "Go To Top". It's nice that they're there, I just wish you didn't have to use them by default. Once I used the Options / Settings / Preferences dialog to add the Date column, then I could easily sort by date and arrange my register such that the newest transactions appeared on top.

Additional Features

SplashMoney offers many more features than I have time to go into here. For example, you can get reports in text or chart form for your recent transactions. You can transfer money between accounts and even schedule recurring transactions! You can even customize the font used by SplashMoney if you don't like the default. One feature I'll be digging into more very soon is the budgeting feature. After using SplashMoney for a month, I'll have a clear view of how I spend my money by category (or by payee, or by class), and I'll have real data with which to try creating and sticking to a personal budget.

Syncing Between Desktop and Phone

The desktop companion app will also sync with your bank's online services if you don't have an unlimited data plan for your phone. The sync feature is pretty robust, too. I really tried hard to confuse SplashMoney by syncing and modifying transactions on both the phone and in the desktop app, and in all cases it made the right choices as far as merging information. I did find that my phone had to be unlocked and "connected" to ActiveSync before SplashMoney Desktop would sync. I consider this a security feature - someone who finds your lost phone won't be able to get access to your financial data if they can't unlock your phone.

Summary

In summary, I can say that while I hit some speed bumps in getting started with SplashMoney, I've really come to enjoy it and will definitely keep it on my Blackjack. Most of the tedium of managing transactions can be easily overcome by using the desktop companion application. Having instant access to my banking information at all times is extremely convenient.

Pros:

  • Can sync bank accounts over the air just like Quicken or MS Money
  • A desktop version of SplashMoney is included
  • Customer support on the SplashData forums is very helpful
  • Highly configurable for personal preferences (though the default choices are a bit questionable in my opinion)

Cons:

  • Ease-of-use could stand some improvements
  • Some minor incompatibilities with the Samsung Blackjack II

Wish List:

  • When downloading transactions for multiple accounts at once, show more than just the spinning glob. Maybe tell me which bank account is currently being downloaded. When you have a lot of accounts and a slow connection, this can take a long time. Giving more granular progress information will help make users realize the app isn't really hung.
  • Let me select one of the transaction classes to be the default for all transactions. I track many more personal expenses than business expenses, but for every transaction, I have to select the class.
  • In the "Register" view on the desktop app, I'd like to have combo boxes inline for each transaction so I can quickly change categories and classes. Currently, you have to double-click the transaction which brings up an edit dialog, then you can modify the category or class of the transaction. Especially when you have a lot of transactions to review, making it easier to do this quickly would be nice. Here's a conceptual example:

Having combo boxes for categories and classes inline with the transaction would be nice.

  • Enable automatic scheduled downloads of transactions once per day, for example, instead of requiring a manual sync every time.
  • Remember the last category I used for common payees. For example, I always categories Starbucks as "Dining". I should only have to enter that manually a couple of times. After that, I'd love to see SplashMoney remember my preferences for things like this. And, please give me the option to override automatic categorization if you implement this!
  • In the account register, I'd like the option to filter by uncategorized expenses.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Silverlight - Get On Board!

Yeah... Flash is cool, but Silverlight Adoption Expected to Triple (eWeek).  Better start reading up and practicing now!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

My shiny new Blackjack II

Well... not exactly new... more like a refurb, but it's new to me!

Blackjack_II

I just upgraded from the Blackjack to the Blackjack II.  So far, I really like it. The extra 64MB of RAM is wonderful since I keep a lot of things running.  I've also installed the MoDaCo GPS activator hack and now I can use the built-in GPS with navigational software.  It's going to take me a little time to get used to not having the side jogwheel.  It's been replaced with a jogwheel on the face of the phone, which is really convenient, but just a little different.

Construction-wise, the phone is a beauty with a shiny black case, extra large crystal display (though the actual screen portion appears to be about the same size).  The addition of multi-color LEDs for notifications is also handy.  Now I just have to figure out what the colors mean!  (red=charging, green=charged, white=???)

I've already noticed the battery life isn't quite as good as the BJ with extended battery, so I'll have to pay a little more attention to my sync schedules, what apps I leave running, etc.  For example, after a short night (there are a lot of kids in my house), the battery was down to just under 1/2 max. and I was already getting the "low power" warnings on the phone.

Switching phones is a bit of a pain.  I haven't set up all my e-mail accounts yet (I keep about 6 or 7 different ones) and I'm slogging through re-installing all my applications, digging up registration codes, etc.